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NFL Draft

NFC North Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

  • The Draft Network
  • July 29, 2020
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Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Seventh in a division-by-division series, I analyzed the NFC North and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players and coaches across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC North Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC East Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Matt Patricia, HC, Detroit Lions

Bears general manager Ryan Pace could also be considered here, but arguably no coach (besides maybe Houston’s Bill O’Brien) is on a hotter seat coming into 2020 than Matt Patricia. Taking over a middling squad under Jim Caldwell, Patricia has led the Lions to an abysmal 9-22-1 record throughout his two-year tenure with the team. Of course, losing Matthew Stafford last year was a crippling loss, but the real problem with this team lies with their defense—a unit Patricia is primarily in charge of. Ultimately, if Patricia can’t make vast improvements to the defensive side of the ball this season, particularly with their mediocre pass-rush, the Lions may have no choice but to part with the so-called defensive mastermind following the 2020 season.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to hold a pencil in his ear
  • Most likely to alienate his top players

Most likely to disappoint: Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

Trading a fourth-round pick for Foles and his expensive contract this offseason, it seems like Chicago is banking on the former Super Bowl-winner becoming their starting quarterback. Although I do think he’s an upgrade over incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky in this regard, particularly because of his familiarity with Matt Nagy’s offense, it’s not enough of an improvement for me to believe the Bears are suddenly a contender.

Armed with an elite defense, the team's decision to move legitimate assets for Foles instead of signing a better player like Cam Newton for cheap was quite mind-boggling, and I just don’t think it’s going to pay dividends for the organization in the long run. Ultimately, we’ve seen what Foles brings and it isn’t pretty. He can pop off in the odd game, but he’s simply a bridge quarterback at this point in time, not a legitimate answer.

Could also win:  

  • “That guy won the Super Bowl?”

Best Offensive Player: David Bakhtiari, OT, Green Bay Packers

WHAT? Not Aaron Rodgers? Look, many don’t want to admit it, but Rodgers has declined a bit in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still very, VERY good, but Bakhtiari may just be the top OT in all of football.

A model of consistency along the offensive line, the Packers stalwart held down Rodgers’ blindside at an elite level in 2019, allowing only two sacks and committing just 11 penalties on more than 1,000 reps last season. He’s not the most flashy or powerful player at the position, but Bakhtiari is an elite, All-Pro-level player. It’s time for the national media to catch up and give him the attention he rightfully deserves.

Could also win:  

  • Best OT in the NFL

https://twitter.com/realshuadad/status/1267651350227234817?s=20

Best Defensive Player: Khalil Mack, EDGE, Chicago Bears

Danielle Hunter is an absolute star and Za’Darius Smith’s breakout 2019 made him a strong contender here, but Mack was ultimately still the choice in this scenario.

A powerful, bruising edge defender who legitimately takes over games, Mack’s sack numbers (8.5) did dip a little in 2019, but he still ranked seventh in total pressures (45) and logged an incredibly stellar win-rate of 20%. Dealing with double teams for the majority of the season, Chicago’s acquisition of Robert Quinn should also free up Mack more in 2020, which will likely lead to an increase in production.

Could also win:  

  • Most powerful edge defender

Underrated Star: Kenny Clark, DL, Green Bay Packers

Allen Robinson, Anthony Harris, or even Corey Linsley could fit this spot, but Clark’s disrespect on a national scale is almost unfathomable.

Often thought of as simply a nose tackle, Clark is so much more than that. Not only providing elite run-clogging ability, his presence as a rusher from both 0-technique and 3-technique positions are also severely underrated. Facing double teams on roughly 300 of his pass-rush snaps, Clark finished 2019 ranked fourth in IDL pass-rush win rate (14%), also tying for third in the league (along with teammate Smith) in third-down pressures. Still just 24 years old, he’s only entering his prime as one of the league’s top players from the interior.

In a league where Aaron Donald stands in a league of his own, it may seem like hyperbole, but Clark certainly has a case to be at the top of that very next defensive line tier.

Could also win:  

  • “He’s only 24 years old?”

https://twitter.com/BenFennell_NFL/status/1062737557836959744?s=20

Most likely to Breakout: Mike Hughes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

It’s tough to fully project this one given Hughes only played 45% of Minnesota defensive snaps last season, but this is a prime example of where talent meets opportunity. Losing their top three corners from a year ago, the Vikings—once considered stocked at the cornerback position—are in desperate need of Hughes to elevate into their No. 1 corner spot. Drafted in the first round in 2018, it’s clear that Hughes has the traits to excel in this regard, but injuries and other concerns have stood out as challenging hurdles during his first two NFL seasons.

With rookie corner Jeff Gladney likely lining opposite of him, there’s really no competition in Hughes’ way entering the 2020 season. If he’s going to prove his worth, now is the time.

Could also win:  

  • Biggest prove-it player

Rookie of the Year: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions

Justin Jefferson is worth mentioning here, especially given his strong scheme fit with Kirk Cousins, but Okudah is simply too talented not to list at this spot.  

Drafted third overall, Okudah literally offers every single tool needed at the cornerback position and will likely be asked to shadow top wideouts right from the get-go. Although Chase Young is probably the better pure player, Patricia’s reliance on corners gives Okudah the best opportunity to achieve Pro-Bowl or All-Pro status as a rookie. Obviously, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but if one rookie was up for those accolades, my bet would be on the Detroit defensive back.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely rookie to make the Pro Bowl

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